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Florida vs. Vanderbilt, The Rundown: The growing Gators win going away

For the second straight week, Florida stayed mostly in control of an SEC game away from home. And the Gators are expanding their identity.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

How Florida Won

The Gators got it going (again)

Last week, I wrote about Florida recovering from a 7-0 deficit in this space. This week, I'm writing about Florida recovering from a 7-0 deficit in this space.

At least there's a formula.

After blowing coverages and yielding a touchdown drive to Vanderbilt midway through the first quarter, Florida answered with a 10-play, 65-yard drive capped by a Kelvin Taylor touchdown run to tie things up on the next drive, then seized control of the game in the second quarter with 10 points off two turnovers, making up for a fourth-and-goal failure.

Vanderbilt never really challenged after going down 17-7, failing to cross the 50 in the second and third quarters, and needed a thumped field goal kick to score its only other points of the day.


The Jalen Tabor pick

Didn't think I was going to reuse Awesome this week, but this is the best interception I can recall a Gator other than Reggie Nelson, Ahmad Black, or Vernon Hargreaves III making, for sure, and it might be better than any of those. Context aside — this had no real bearing on the outcome of this game — it's just a beautiful, immensely athletic play. Making that sort of leaping catch with two hands would've been impressive; Tabor doing so with one, and fluidly tucking the ball in mid-air as if he was Calvin Johnson, made this the single coolest play of the year by a Florida player.


Treon, straight and true

If Treon the Truth isn't Treon Harris's "real" nickname when all is said and done, it will only be because TH3 is just as good. Regardless, Harris had the sort of game worth singing praises over on Saturday: 13-for-21 for 215 yards through the air, 10 carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. No mistakes, either, after fumbling an exchange against Georgia and throwing interceptions and shoulda-been-picks against Missouri and Tennessee.

This was a clean, efficient game of football, and on those merits alone counts as a major upgrade from what Jeff Driskel was providing this season. But Harris also showed he can throw deep and run free, completing pretty deep passes to Ahmad Fulwood and Quinton Dunbar and scampering 33 yards through the heart of Vanderbilt's defense for Florida's final touchdown of the night.

There's a certain amount of it's just Vanderbilt that I think we should factor into this performance, just like I thought we should probably have considered the competition Tyler Murphy faced and filleted in 2013 before pinning the same hopes we had for Florida before the season to him. In every "soft factor" by every "eye test," though, Harris appears to be the real deal, whether you derive your reasoning for his intangible brilliance from him shaking off a hit (that he shouldn't have taken) early on, or from how the team celebrates his successes, or from how hard the team plays, impossible though that is to quantify.

For now, Harris is all the Gators have at quarterback (Driskel isn't playing meaningful snaps as a thrower unless Harris gets hurt), so it's not as if he's competing with anyone. Still, he's standing alone, and tall.

A fired-up defense put the screws to Vandy

Florida's defense was bad up until the end of that first scoring drive. The first play of the game went for 21 yards; the scoring drive encountered little resistance. If you were on the pessimistic side entering the game, you might have thought Florida was about to lose to Vanderbilt again.

The Gators' defense just shrugged, watched their offense respond to a deficit with a touchdown, and promptly allowed just about nothing for the next two hours of play. Here's what Vandy's offense did on its next 11 drives.

Vanderbilt Drives

Yeah, it's just Vanderbilt, but Florida held Vandy to 166 yards on 56 plays for the next 11 drives after two shaky ones to start, and Vandy covered more ground (59 yards) on its final drive than it did in the second quarter. Oh, and those four turnovers were nice, too.

Those first two drives shouldn't have happened, and I imagine Will Muschamp was barking "DO YOUR JOB!" at players on the final drive of the game (as he did against Georgia), but there was basically nothing to dislike about this defensive performance from the midpoint of the first quarter on.


Winning with turnovers and a QB

Florida beat Georgia with no edge in the turnover battle and a QB who threw six passes. It beat Vanderbilt with a +4 edge in the turnover battle and a QB who completed 13 of his 21 throws, two of them for more yardage than Florida threw for in the entire game against Georgia.

We saw Florida win while intentionally hamstrung two weeks ago. Last weekend, the Gators stretched and flexed, and it worked out. I hope we see more of the latter going forward: Growth is good.

Both Good and Bad

It's good to score, but better to have six

Florida is third nationally in red zone scoring percentage, despite coming up empty for just the second time this year on its first goal-to-go drive against Vandy. And though Florida's 93rd nationally in red zone attempts, with 31, that's partly a factor of the Gators playing just eight games; averaging about four red zone attempts per game isn't bad at all.

The problem isn't with Florida scoring in the red zone; it's with Florida not scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Florida's gotten three points on 11 of those 31 drives to rank 10th nationally in red zone field goal percentage, but has scored just 18 red zone touchdowns, and is tied for 83rd nationally in red zone touchdown percentage.

We saw a good reaction to that issue from the Gators on Saturday with two consecutive four-down attempts to punch in a touchdown: If you need to score six points, you have to at least try. And though Florida came up empty on its first try, eventually scoring on a Driskel leap/flop/something basically equated to two field goals.

But Florida also kicked a field goal on a drive starting at the Vanderbilt 26 that had a first and 10 at the Vandy 14, because Clay Burton's hands don't work, and turned first and 10 on the Vandy 18 into a 40-yard field goal from the Vandy 23.

Against Vanderbilt, these mistakes are footnotes. Against South Carolina? Florida State?

Aggression isn't efficiency

Florida started two consecutive drives from Vandy's 43. (Field position was great all night, thanks to Florida's defense and stellar kick coverage.) The first was the one that produced a 40-yard field goal. The second featured three straight incomplete passes from Harris and a punt.

But it was exciting!

Florida needs to take deep shots (and complete them) to allow itself room to work against favorable run boxes up front. That's how football works, unless you're Georgia and have no idea what the hell you're doing against the same four running plays. And wasting a drive on deep shots alone when the opponent is overmatched and the defense is rolling and the worst-case scenario is pinning the other team deep with a punt isn't a terrible thing.

There must be a balance between the aggression that fans drool over and the efficiency that gets points on the board and wins games, though. Driskel took a lot of deep shots, too. It's not taking them that's really important.

Needs Improvement

I never muted Andre Ware

Should've done that. Bad work on my part. We'll get it fixed.


Leon Orr, and bridges burned

I've been asked a couple times this week if I was going to write something more about "the Leon Orr situation," and I really didn't want to write a separate, longer piece, plus this one is already massively overdue, so, well, here: Orr quit on Florida on Saturday, and in so doing made the sort of mistake that no player on a team should ever make. He quit on his coaches, quit on his teammates, and quit on his career. Orr's desire to start was not more important to him and his future than playing would have been, and his blindness to that led to him making a bad decision.

I've read the letter Orr wrote. I've read the sympathetic Zach Abolverdi article. I'm sympathetic to his desire to not be remembered as a quitter, and to the idea that Orr — who says in his letter that he started in practice last week but was told by Brad Lawing that Florida was going to use the defensive line rotation it used against Georgia, with Orr coming off the bench — has a right to feel miffed about how that decision was made and how Muschamp and Lawing handled relaying it to him.

However: Orr reacted to that decision by quitting. He can say he feels that he coach quit on him. He can justify a decision he admits was made "irrationally" by describing it as "a bullet to the heart." He can apologize to anyone and everyone for as long as he wants.

But he quit. There's no changing that fact.

And, yeah, maybe a more lenient coach than Muschamp would let Orr return to this team. Maybe Muschamp should consider letting a contrite, sincere Orr come back and work his ass off to earn playing time.

But Orr just bailed on his team over, in essence, the difference in status and snaps between entering a game as a starter and on the second series. And he thinks the coach(es) quit on him.

Would you be forgiving enough to bring a person who did something similar back into the fold in your life? Or would you wish that person well, and hope they learn more from punishment and penalty than they would from mercy?

I like Leon Orr. I think he's a smart, funny, and generally dedicated person, even before I consider him as a football player. I think his letter shows remarkable insight and introspection. I think he might have a long NFL career if he can focus and work like he must to maximize his talents. I'm definitely gonna be rooting for him.

I realize, though, that I won't be rooting for him in a Florida uniform ever again. He ought to, too.